Q&A: How to help a hoarder parent

Dear Liz: Can you address parents who never throw anything away? It can be a burden to their children when parents leave behind massive amounts of collected, hoarded items, broken cars, old furniture, memorabilia, clothing unworn for decades, etc. This can be troublesome in terms of time off from work to clear an estate and may even necessitate the expense of hiring a professional or paying to have items hauled off.

Answer: Compulsive hoarding is a serious disorder that’s hard to treat unless the person is willing to change—and hoarders rarely are. You can offer to help your parents sort through their possessions, but ultimately it’s their decision what to keep and what to discard. Children of hoarders often have to resign themselves to spending a lot of time and money clearing out the mess when their parents are gone.

If your parents aren’t actually hoarders but simply have too much stuff, the holidays can be a good time to raise the issue of helping them downsize. It’s important to do so with empathy and without judgment. Your parents may not have the energy to organize their stuff, or they may have been traumatized by poverty or other financial setbacks that cause them to cling to things. If the task is too big for them or you, consider hiring a professional to help. The National Assn. of Professional Organizers is a good place to start.

Related Posts


  1. Debbie Christian says

    I have a habit of going to estate sales in my area so I know which estate sale companies are best suited to deal with Mom’s hoarding when the day comes. I will go in and get critical stuff and jewelry and have them clear the house for me. Well worth 25 to 40 percent of the sales total to avoid having to deal with the huge piles.

    • Liz Weston says

      Estate liquidation has become a big business and can be a real boon for those without the time or energy to deal with lifetime accumulations of stuff. Julie Hall, aka The Estate Lady, has several good books on the topic.